A better class of thief across the Channel

I have read several newspaper articles recently that refer to the puzzle of British productivity. The puzzle is that it has not risen of latter years, though the economy has ‘recovered’ in the sense that its output has increased. This can only mean that people are working longer hours or that more of them are working, or both.

Personally I don’t find the supposed puzzle at all puzzling. I think you have only to walk down a British street – an average one, not one in a favoured area – to solve it. The abysmal educational and cultural level of the people by comparison with that of the people in such a street in any comparable country is striking and obvious.

French output is roughly the same as ours, but the French work far fewer hours – fewer, but better. I say this without saying that France is the paragon of countries, as man is the paragon of animals. But even in the matter of crime, the French are more cultivated and efficient than we.

For example, last week I bought the newspaper local to my French house and read that the gendarmes (400 of them) had dismantled a network of burglars who had specialised in the burglary of wine-producing chateaus, their booty being not the videos and other electronic apparatuses that are the cynosure of dim British burglars, but fine wines and works of art, as well as cash and cars.

About twenty people were arrested, after a lengthy preliminary investigation. The people were arrested were ‘gens du voyage,’ people who travel, travellers, commonly known as (but not officially called) gypsies. Two camps of these gens du voyage were surrounded by the gendarmes in a quasi-military operation (the French gendarmerie is, of course, part of the army).

Since the arrested people can be held for only 96 hours, the precise personal role of each of the twenty people arrested must now be determined, or they, or some of them, will have to be released: collective guilt is not enough to convict them. Such are the difficulties of living under the rule of law.

But from the comparative point of view, what is interesting about this story is the way in which refinement has rubbed off even on the gens du voyage. They know a good vintage when they see it, and can distinguish a work of art from an i-Pad. In Britain they steal for quantity; in France for quality. Just like hours worked.

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